Pennsylvania Sea Grant creates funding, opportunities for Brig Niagara

In an effort to further fight state funding losses, Pennsylvania Sea Grant has partnered with the U.S. Brig Niagara to offer area school students an educational opportunity that is the first of its kind aboard the historic brig. As part of Sea Grant's Tall Ships science program, the Niagara will serve as a floating classroom for 270 students next week.

"This arrangement creates both a new source of income and a new educational model for the Niagara. It's the first time that a student program of this kind will utilize the brig," said David Boughton, Sea Grant maritime education specialist. Boughton arranged the partnership with the Niagara's Senior Captain Walter Rybka and Captain Wes Heerssen. Sea Grant staff will serve as teachers aboard the Niagara for each sail.

Students from five school districts will participate in a total of six student sails from May 27–29, one each in the morning and afternoon. In addition, the Boy Scouts of America will work toward earning sailing merit badges on Saturday, June 6.

During each sail, participants will cruise on Lake Erie, hoisting sails and helping to navigate the Niagara while learning to collect, record and analyze sediment and water samples to deepen their understanding of the lake’s current health. Students will rotate between five stations to learn about plankton, water quality, fish adaptations, benthos (bottom samples and exotic species), and density dynamics.

"Ships like the Niagara serve as ambassadors of the Great Lakes, helping to establish a shared understanding and respect for our rich maritime history," Senior Captain Rybka said. "Adding water ecology to Niagara’s programs can only strengthen our goals for teaching greater respect for self, for shipmates, for the craft of seamanship and for the marine environment."

The first Tall Ships program was held in the fall of 2008 aboard Wisconsin's flagship, the schooner S/V Denis Sullivan, which is equipped with a science lab.

"We are very excited about helping the Niagara pay for itself as well as marketing the Pennsylvania flagship to more people in the region and around the state," Boughton said.

According to Boughton, Sea Grant's goal is to inspire students to become stewards of the Great Lakes, and embrace the history and science that will determine the future of the largest fresh water system on Earth.

"It is a win-win situation for everyone—the Niagara, Sea Grant and, especially, the area’s students and citizens," Boughton said.

Sea Grant is seeking support from local sponsors to help make the opportunity available for other schools and groups in the Erie region. For more information about sponsoring students, contact David Boughton at (814) 217-9019 or

To learn more about Niagara sailing programs that are open to public groups and used for team building and professional development, contact the U.S. Brig Niagara and Erie Maritime Museum at (814) 452-2744.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) established Pennsylvania Sea Grant at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, in 1998. Pennsylvania Sea Grant’s mission is to promote the ecological and economic sustainability of Pennsylvania’s coastal resources through science-based research, education and extension. It staffs three locations, a Lake Erie office in the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle State Park and a Delaware Estuary office in the Delaware County city of Chester and Susquehanna River office in Harrisburg. In 2008, NOAA promoted Pennsylvania Sea Grant to Institutional Sea Grant Program status, which gives it primary responsibility for statewide oversight of long-term investments consistent with NOAA’s national Sea Grant goal of environmental stewardship and responsible resource use.

Visit for more information about Pennsylvania Sea Grant.

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Last Updated May 22, 2009